FRANKFORT - Penalty kick tiebreakers are a stressful way to settle soccer championship games, but the Great Crossing girls surely know the drill against Western Hills.
When regulation and two overtimes didn't settle Friday's 41st District championship match at Benny Watkins Field, the Warhawks and Wolverines went to a shootout for the third time in their three-year rivalry.
Senior goalkeeper Shelby Smith and a sure-footed gang of four kept GC undefeated in that gut-wrenching scenario and brought home the program's first-ever title. Brooklyn Couch delivered the golden boot in a 2-1 win.
“Amazing,” Smith said. “I think we earned it whether it went to PKs or not. We had it in the back of our mind that last year they practically stole that championship away from us, and to know that and to come back out here and fight for it I think played a really big role.”
Smith, who has accumulated 600 saves in her career for Great Crossing (10-4-2), stopped three of the four she faced in the sequence to seal tournament MVP honors.
Meren Patton and Meridith Turner buried their shots in the corner of the net before Couch deposited hers to set off a jubilant group hug at midfield.
“I was just nervous. I didn't want to do it at all,” Couch said. “I have a specific place I like to put it. The most nerve-racking part (was) I didn't know what to do after.”
GC avenged a 3-2 loss in last year's district final. Western Hills also lost shootouts to Great Crossing in the 2019 regular season and playoff semifinals and dropped an overtime verdict during the 2020 campaign.
“I think PKs are just a mindset, You have to go with what your gut says,” Smith said. “A lot of times it's just you against yourself, because they're not meant to be saved. You just have to keep your composure."
This year's previous meeting was a relative breeze for the Warhawks, 4-0 at home.
But the rematch tested everyone's mettle by taking two days to complete, thanks to a pair of lightning delays on Thursday night.
“We had so many opportunities but just couldn't get it,” GC coach Steve Brown said. “I guess they just love the flair for the dramatic. We probably practiced PKs 40 times in the past two days, thinking, 'Ah, we won't need to use it, but just in case.; We've always had confidence in Shelby. That's what she thrives off.”
Meren Patton scored on an assist from Ally Nowlin with 9:15 remaining in the first half Thursday before the second bout of weather intervened during intermission and ultimately forced officials to abandon the game.
Skies were still threatening on day two, and so was Western Hills (10-9). The Wolverines tied it with 10:53 remaining in regulation when Kennedy Carter redirected a corner kick from Maddie Muller past Smith.
“Baili (Bailey, GC assistant coach and former Scott County goalkeeper) always says I'm better at stopping PKs than corners, and that showed in this game for sure,” Smith said. “It was definitely on me. I called it off. I take full responsibility for that one.”
The Warhawks dominated possession and scoring opportunities for the duration of live play but couldn't cash in.
Earlier in the half, Nowlin pinged the post, and the Wolverines made a pair of bang-bang stops against Patton and Brooke Dennard that barely prevented the ball from crossing the line.
“We've struggled all year just with the finishing part,” Brown said.
“I wish we could have won it during the game, but it's nice to get the PKs in,” Couch added.
Smith made four saves prior to her series of penalty kick denials. Muller was the only Wolverine to find a seam in the tiebreaker.
“I have full faith in my team,” Smith said. “I know they're going to do their job as long as I do mine.”
Patton, Nowlin and defensive stalwart Kamri Smith joined Shelby Smith on the all-tournament team.
Great Crossing will be one of the four No. 1 seeds in the 11th Region tournament and will host a district runner-up in the quarterfinals. The draw will be held Saturday afternoon after other weather-delayed district championships are completed.
“The older they get, the more resilient this team gets. I feel like we're moving our level of play up, and at this time last year I felt like we were heading back,” Brown said. “They've earned it. They're awesome."